Are we prepared for bio-invaders?
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Formerly known as the Forest Research Institute, Scion has been a leader in research relating to forest health for over 50 years. The Rotorua-based Crown Research Institute continues to provide science that will protect all forests from damage caused by insect pests, pathogens and weeds. The information presented below arises from these research activities.
From Forest Health News - Issue 265 - March/April 2016.
“Are we prepared for the bio-invaders?” This was the question that was put to industry, government and researchers at the 14th Annual Forest Biosecurity Workshop held in Rotorua on 23 and 24 February 2016.
New Zealand’s past invasion history, and recent incursions such as the 2015 Queensland fruit fly in Auckland, have taught us that preparedness is paramount. Now that the New Zealand plantation forestry sector has signed the Government Industry Agreement (GIA) with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) establishing a formal partnership between government and industry for biosecurity readiness, what has to be done next? At the workshop the point rapidly became clear that just because you are a GIA partner that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily see eye-to-eye when a response occurs. Examples from Australia, which has a similar arrangement to GIA, showed the forest industry there has experienced a few surprises when it came to the c runch, having to make decisions on operations and sharing the costs of incursion responses.
Key answers from the workshop were that any response to a bio-invader must be rapid and effective. To do so, the greater industry must be better coordinated to increase awareness and prepare for incursions. The sector, Scion and other researchers are working closely with MPI to redesign the Forest Biosecurity Surveillance system in conjunction with the MPI-operated High Risk Site Surveillance system. This is a step in the right direction, but there is a great deal more that can be done to ensure we have a better biosecurity system. Crown Research Institutes and the Better Border Biosecurity collaboration (B3) can assist by ensuring up-to-date knowledge of the key biosecurity threats to New Zealand plantation forests is available. That includes state-of-the-art competency to detect and identify threats, and also the capability to respond in time to ensure eradication, or at least control.
The workshop highlighted there is a need for better technology in forest surveillance. Diagnostic services have been greatly improved in recent years, with molecular technology playing a key role in making rapid identification of potentially new organisms, especially pathogens. MPI, with its cross-sector brief, may also play an important role in keeping industry partners informed about new technologies as they become available.
One concluding remark was that MPI needs to ensure the country has the correct chemicals, either on hand, or at least have the licence to use the chemicals, in the event of an incursion. Raising general public awareness of the importance of biosecurity is an important concern here, and we feel that the government, through MPI, can do a lot more with social media to develop a “biosecurity culture” in New Zealand. The media has certainly raised the issue of the Zika virus, and there are probably few citizens that would oppose aerial spraying to eradicate Zika-carrying mosquitoes. Something similar needs to happen in biosecurity where an efficient response system would require the government to have social licence to operate with insecticides in urban environments. There is no reason for people to be totally freaked out. In most situations insecticides sprayed to target insect pests are biocontrol agents that are proven to be safe to human health.
Bill Dyck (Forest Owners Association) and Katrin Webb
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(Scion is the trading name of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute Limited.)